What is Juneteenth?
It is a holiday celebrated across the U.S. (including Pennsylvania) that marks the date the last enslaved people in the U.S. learned of the official abolition of slavery in the states belonging to the Confederacy. It is also called Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, Cel-Liberation Day, and Jubilee Day; in PA, its official name is “Juneteenth National Freedom Day.”
A (Very) Short Timeline
Emancipation Proclamation broadside 227739.1863.F3, from the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
The Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863. It granted permanent freedom to all enslaved persons in the rebelling Confederate States of America, as long as they somehow made their way to a free, non-slave state. While this meant that no enslaved people were instantly freed, the Emancipation Proclamation did give many enslaved people a real chance at freedom.* It was not an easy chance. Enslaved people had to somehow hear about the Proclamation and realize the opportunity it offered, and then plan and manage a successful, life-risking escape.
Many enslaved people achieved it, despite the hardships. They became runaways, they made their way to places held by the Union army, or they used the Underground Railroad to escape.** But other enslaved people couldn’t escape, were caught and returned, or lost their lives in escape attempts. Many never heard about the Emancipation Proclamation at all between 1863 and the end of the Civil War on April 9, 1865.
*This is all drastically simplified; those interested in exploring the subject more in depth should start with the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Fiery Trial” by Eric Foner, or read some of the books below.
**Successful African American businessman William C. Goodridge was a conductor on the Underground Railroad in York County; you can visit his house in York to explore this part of local history.
Why June 19th?
So why is June 19th the date celebrated, if the Civil War ended April 9th? June 19, 1865 is the date that US General Gordon Granger reached Galveston, TX, the most distant place where people were still (illegally) enslaved. It is the date he read out the formal federal order informing the citizens that all formerly enslaved people in the Confederate states were now free people. Later that year came the total abolition of slavery across the U.S. with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 6.
Abolishing slavery and freeing enslaved people did not make everything right, though it was a positive step. Slavery still has echoes today, over 150 years later, which can be a challenge to understand. A great way to explore any topic is through reading or listening to different viewpoints and putting in the work to build a better understanding of it.
Below are some selected books to read to celebrate Juneteenth, and to help build antiracist and welcoming communities. These books mainly focus on Black experiences and history in honor of Juneteenth. You can also dig into the Diversity Studies database for scholarly writing, magazine and newspaper articles, and more. All are free with your YCL card.
The books below are great for any time. But Juneteenth is a great reason to start reading them! Many of them are available in digital and audio format.
Jump to: Middle Grades | Teens | Adults
Kids’ Picture & Story Books
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson
Juneteenth by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson & Drew Nelson
Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper
Juneteenth Jamboree by Carole Boston Weatherford
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o
Not My Idea by Anastasia Higginbotham
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano & Marietta Collins
The Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty by Tonya Bolden
|New Kid by Jerry Craft *Graphic novel
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
Blended by Sharon M. Draper
The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Rameé
|They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Jane Pittman
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen & Rebecca Stefoff
Simeon’s Story by Simeon Wright
Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie